Construction

Decrease in on-site accidents

Decrease in on-site accidents
Decrease in on-site accidents
According to the latest statistics there has been a steady decline in the number of accidents on construction sites over the past three years in South Africa. In 2010 there were 9 858 accidents and 93 fatalities whilst in 2011 there were 8 099 accidents and 50 fatalities.

However, according to Deon Bester, Occupational Health and Safety Manager for the Master Builders Association of the Western Cape (MBAWC), although the number of accidents has decreased, there has been a dramatic increase in the average cost of an accident.

In 2010 the average cost of an accident was R 11 961, but this has increased to R 21 857 per accident in 2011. This constitutes almost a 100% increase within 12 months and equates to between four and five people being injured and requiring medical attention per hour. While the direct cost related to these injuries is R 804 338, every day there are also substantial indirect costs including loss of time, lapses in productivity, re-employment, retraining and the potential damage to a company’s reputation.

So what causes these accidents? Bester believes there are four primary causes of accidents in South Africa: insufficient forecasting, a lack of supervision, inadequate training and poor communication.

“The construction industry currently has almost five unplanned events per hour at a cost of R21 857 each. While these are unplanned they can also be prevented through better forecasting. Before the work even begins contractors need to assess the site and evaluate the potential risks and hazards involved. They will also need to determine whether or not the hazard can be removed, if the risk can be controlled and what protective measures must be put in place to protect the workforce as a whole. In addition, consideration must be given to ways of minimising harm in the event of an accident.

Most construction sites are, by their very nature chaotic so it is imperative that the crew knows what the plan is for the day. Not only does this help workers to keep out of each other’s way, it also gives everyone a clearer picture of what is expected of them. While there are certain things that cannot be predicted, for instance a client making changes to the original plan, this is where the need for proper communication comes into play.

Effective communication is paramount to getting vital information across to the workforce, yet there is a tendency to make assumptions about the knowledge and ability of staff. Employers tend to forget about the low levels of education characteristic of a high percentage of workers and overlook, and even possibly ignore the very real language barriers that abound in this country. All of these pose major problems when it comes to communication.

Employers need to make an effort to understand their workforce and provide them with information that is not only in a language that they understand but is also relevant to them. Short meetings can be hosted each day where safety and other information can be passed on to the staff and where discussions on recent accidents as how to prevent similar incidents. In these meetings, supervisors can obtain the opinions of those on the ground and use them to improve Occupational Health and Safety on the particular site that they are working on as well as on future sites.

A lack of understanding amongst employees, when coupled with inadequate training on matters of health and safety, can further exacerbate the potential for accidents to happen. Many contractors have files full of documents proving that training has taken place. However, all too often the trainee cannot apply what they have been taught. The purpose of training should be to provide workers with the right information to equip them with the knowledge they need to perform a task safely and without risk to their health and that of others. For this there should be processes in place, like outcomes-based assessments, to ensure that the training is understood and that the workers are able to apply what they have learnt.

Inadequate training can also result in supervisors not understanding their role as being responsible for the safety of the workers under them. They should act as a coach and mentor to ensure that safety practices are upheld such as wearing protective gear. Insufficient supervision is another major contributing factor to accidents and figures show that on average a supervisor has eight to ten people under his or her direct control. In theory the relatively small supervisor to worker ratio should make managing health and safety easier but this does not appear to be the case considering the number of accidents that do occur. To ensure more effective supervision it is advised to designate one person in each work area to act as the safety coordinator for that section.

If we fail to address these causes we are actually setting ourselves up for accidents to happen. Improved forecasting, communication, training and supervision can result in cleaner, neater, safer, healthier and more productive sites.”
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